director, Dking.com; specialist in online marketing and communication strategies
freelance writer and journalist; food blogger, www.crumbsfood.co.uk
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance, DACS; chair, Association of Photographers
teacher, parent and food campaigner; chair, Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools
national coordinator, Debating Matters Competition
Yasmin refuses to eat her greens, and left to his own devices, Timmy would scoff jam sandwiches three times a day: children are notoriously fussy eaters. Yet with growing fears over childhood obesity and the pressure to make sure weâre not âkilling our kidsâ with junk food, the tussle over the dining table is no longer simply a matter of teatime tantrums. With high profile campaigns led by TV programmes like Jamie Oliverâs School Dinners and government initiatives such as Change4Life, the job of getting kids off turkey twizzlers and onto âfive a dayâ has become an increasing focus of education and public health policy. Whether itâs classes on nutrition, family vouchers for fruit & veg and even instances of rewarding or punishing kids for the contents of their lunchboxes, todayâs generation of youngsters are encouraged at every turn to think twice about the food on their plates.
It seems the days when parents simply told their children to eat what was in front of them are over. But if mums and dads are constantly told off for feeding their kids fatty foods, and with increasing calls to weigh pupils at school to defuse the âobesity timebombâ, is it any wonder many of todayâs youngsters have an unhealthily confused attitude to whatâs on the dinner plate? Some worry that concern over childrenâs bad diets only contributes to the danger of eating disorders. Given the cultural pressure on teenagers to keep skinny, with parents observing that kids start fretting about their weight younger and younger, it seems there is a very narrow line to tread between encouraging kids to watch what they eat, and ensuring they feel comfortable with themselves and donât worry needlessly about getting fat.
Given that we live in such a food conscious age, do we have a responsibility to ensure children have all the information and guidance they need to cope with conflicting pressures, or does relentless dietary education only add official sanction to an already paranoid attitude towards what we eat? Are extremes of âunhealthy eatingâ becoming the norm, or are we allowing a few rare examples to skew our perceptions of whatâs normal? Might moralising around âgoodâ and âbadâ food choices at an early age only indulge the fussy instincts of children?